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View Full Version : Is this true? "Origins of self-publishing" rumor.



jamiehall
11-17-2006, 08:03 PM
I have heard (but have never been able to confirm) that many of the ordinary publishing companies that are big and well-known today and have been around for many decades originally started with someone who wanted to publish their own book, or their own book and a few books of their friends.

In other words, the rumor says that many big, famous traditional publishers started out, way back in the mists of time, as conventional self-publishers, and quickly switched to being ordinary publishers.

Is this true? I've found it hard to research this, partly because the larger, older publishing houses were started so very long ago that I can't find much detail about their very early years, or find out which book was their very first published book.

I kind of suspect that it is just one of the myths that circulate about self-publishing, but I could be wrong.

On a similar topic, do any of the conventional self-publishers here aspire to someday becoming small-press conventional publishers?

Lauri B
11-21-2006, 09:30 PM
Hi Jamie,
I can't say whether the Big Five started out as self-publishing houses, but lots of smaller houses start out that way. We started out as a book packager.

Medievalist
11-21-2006, 10:20 PM
In other words, the rumor says that many big, famous traditional publishers started out, way back in the mists of time, as conventional self-publishers, and quickly switched to being ordinary publishers.

That's kind of a trick question. If you look at the very early history of book publishing in English, yes, that's true, but I'm talking the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

If you take a big name publisher, like Random House, or Macmillan, or Routledge (some of these old houses, well, most of these, have been swallowed by progressively larger fish), then no, it's not true.

GHF65
11-22-2006, 04:10 PM
Anyone know how those big houses did get started?

Nomad, I'm going to reveal my idiocy here, but I have to ask . . . what's a "book packager"?

Mac H.
11-22-2006, 04:44 PM
In other words, the rumor says that many big, famous traditional publishers started out, way back in the mists of time, as conventional self-publishers, and quickly switched to being ordinary publishers.Ah yes, the hallmark of a rumour. Which companies? "Many big, famous" ones.

Random House certainly didn't. They were originally 'Modern Library' - which was started by Horace Liveright. He certainly wasn't a self-publisher.

If you go back a lot earlier, then it is a bit meaningless because it was a totally different system - with 'patrons' who financed things. Since the 'patron' provided funding for the artisan, then clearly it wasn't self-publishing, where the author provides the funding.

Why don't you give a list of, say, the big 'famous' publishers who are claimed to have started out that way?

Mac

jamiehall
11-22-2006, 07:22 PM
Ah yes, the hallmark of a rumour. Which companies? "Many big, famous" ones.

Why don't you give a list of, say, the big 'famous' publishers who are claimed to have started out that way?

Mac

Because the rumor doesn't come with a list (or, at least, the version I've heard doesn't come with a list, though it wouldn't surprise me if some version of it out there comes with a list).

James D. Macdonald
11-23-2006, 12:58 AM
Most of the very old publishers started out as either printers who went into publishing to provide more work for their presses, or bookstore owners who went into publishing to provide more books for their shops.

More recently you'll find publishing houses started by salesmen and distributors. Offhand I can't think of any major presses that were founded by self-published authors who branched out.

If you want to allow some loose definitions, Hugh Hefner self-published the first issue of Playboy. Later on, he founded Playboy Press, which was fairly major for a while.

You'll also find that places like Beckham Publications Group and Teri Woods Publishing, started as self-publishers. They're still small, niche presses.

jamiehall
11-23-2006, 01:33 AM
Most of the very old publishers started out as either printers who went into publishing to provide more work for their presses, or bookstore owners who went into publishing to provide more books for their shops.

Thanks! I was pretty sure someone would have the specific information to either confirm or deny this rumor. And I kind of suspected it would be "deny" since it just has the feel of those overly-vague, overly-optimistic rumors that fly around in the POD self-publishing world.

James D. Macdonald
11-23-2006, 08:49 AM
If you're interested in individual companies you can look them up. Max Schuster and Dick Simon were salesmen and marketers. (Simon & Schuster invented the returnable book; you want to talk about a revolution in publishing?) Ian Ballantine was a distributor (for Penguin) before he branched out on his own. Random House started when Bennett Cerf bought The Modern Library (which did reprints of classic works) and added original works. (Cerf eventually started writing his own joke books, but those were "self-published" only under the very loosest definition.) Alfred A. Knopf started by publishing Russian literature in translation. Henry Holt was himself an author, but he became a publisher when he took over another publishing house; Holt became one of the first publishers to only do publishing -- they contracted out the printing to independent printers and had third-party bookstores sell the books rather than selling them at retail themselves. Frank Doubleday started as a printer, then worked as an editor for Charles Scribner & Sons (the original Charles Scribner had started by printing religious tracts and collections of sermons back in the 1840s), before striking out on his own as a publisher. Harper Brothers started out doing cheap reprints of foreign books.

And so on.

Lauri B
11-27-2006, 10:15 PM
Hi Schoolmarm,
A book packager is a company who either comes up with a book idea, writes it and designs it, then sells the finished product to a publisher, who publishes it, or is contracted by a book publisher to do the same thing (but it's the publisher's original idea).

GHF65
11-28-2006, 04:57 PM
Thanks, Nomad. I feel slightly less dumb now. If you'd be so kind as to tell me how a book packager differs from an author (other than in corporate status), you'd help tremendously in my progress from retarded to mildly learning disabled. There is more to learn in this business than I ever anticipated!

Lauri B
11-30-2006, 10:16 PM
a book packager will often do everything, from writing to layout (a finished "package.") In the past, we packaged books from start to finish, but we also just wrote them and turned them over to another publisher to layout and print. It depends on the contract. Authors just write and revise--they almost never have much to do with the layout.

James D. Macdonald
12-07-2006, 08:38 PM
What's a packager?

You know those annoying people who come up to you at conventions and say, "You're an author? I have a great idea for a book! You write it and we'll split the money!"

Packagers are like that, except they really do have an idea (and have a publisher already lined up), and they're talking money up front.

batgirl
12-07-2006, 10:53 PM
Gray's Publishing, a small (and now defunct) publisher in Victoria BC, began because Mr. Gray wanted to see the memoir of a friend of his get into print. So he started a publishing house, and eventually became a respected regional publisher. Non-fiction and memoirs, mostly of local interest. Some titles became international sellers - The Curve of Time, by M. Wylie Blanchet, for instance.
I did some of the preliminary work on their archives when they were donated to UVic. Got to sort through galleys and original manuscripts (some handwritten in school notebooks!), clippings of reviews, correspondance and so on. Fascinating stuff.
-Barbara

Christine N.
01-30-2007, 09:36 PM
Think Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. Series developed by a company, written by a variety of writers, usually for a flat fee instead of royalty. Nowandays most packaged books have the real writers name on them, but Carolyn Keene was a name invented by the company.

The AAR doesn't allow its members to do book package deals; I know an agent or two who are good, legitimate agents who aren't members of the AAR because they do book package deals.

Make sense?

ResearchGuy
02-03-2007, 03:29 AM
Recently brought to my attention: http://www.bookmarket.com/selfpublish.html

Highly recommended. Highly.

--Ken

James D. Macdonald
02-03-2007, 10:43 AM
Oh, Lord. Not John Kremer's Self Publishing Hall of Fame again.


Amanda Brown used First Books to publish her first novel Legally Blonde as a print-on-demand book. Her self-published book was made into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon. A year and a half after the movie was made, Plume published her book, with an additional chapter on what's next for Elle Woods.

Did anyone look at the publication date of the book versus the shooting dates of the movie? Yep, the movie came first.

Lots more problems on that list.


Edgar Rice Burroughs, author of the Tarzan books, self-published some of his books.

After Edgar Rice Burroughs got very rich and famous as an author, he founded a publishing house. I suppose you could call it self-publishing.


L. Frank Baum self-published at least some of the books in the Wizard of Oz series.

This just flat isn't true. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published by the George M. Hill Company. When the George M. Hill Company went out of business in 1902, two of its employees, Reilly and Britton, formed a new publishing company. They published the next eleven Oz books. The other two Oz books by Baum were published by Reilly & Lee.

What Baum actually self-published were pamphlets on chicken farming.


In 1918, William Strunk self-published The Elements of Style for his college classes at Cornell University. The book was later revised by his student E.B. White and continues to sell many thousands of copies every year as a standard reference source for writers.

That was because the Xerox machine had not yet been invented. Strunk printed out the class notes for his students. Strunk & White, the book we've all heard of, was written years after Strunk's death, and was entirely conventionally published.

I'm amazed that The Scarsdale Diet by Dr. Herbert Tarnower isn't on the list -- it started out as a single-page mimeographed sheet of diet instructions that Tarnower handed to his patients. One of those patients was a publisher who bought the rights and hired a professional writer to expand that one page to book length. But still! It was originally self-published!


Bestselling Canadian author Margaret Atwood self-published her first volume of poetry Double Persephone in 1961, the year she graduated from college. The print run was only 200 copies. Atwood has gone on to become a bestselling novelist and short story writer.

Well, heck. I self-published a songbook in 1976, in an edition of 150 copies (just me, a xerox machine, and a saddle-stapler). I too have gone on to become a bestselling novelist and short story writer. I tell you for true: the latter did not depend in any way on the former.


And so on, so endlessly on. Whether Elizabeth Barrett Browning paid to publish the first volume of her poetry (actually, it was her father who paid to publish an edition of 50 copies -- Elizabeth was 14 years old at the time) ... the experience a poet in 1820 says little about publishing, or self-publishing, today.

The list, overall, is poorly researched and misleading.

jamiehall
02-22-2007, 08:21 PM
Recently brought to my attention: http://www.bookmarket.com/selfpublish.html

Highly recommended. Highly.

--Ken

From the link: "In 1998, Arthur Agatston, author of The South Beach Diet, began by self-publishing several hundred pamphlets outlining his diet ideas for patients."

Why would that count? Pamphlets are almost always self-published, by definition. What's next? Are they going to count flyers that an author printed and distributed for 4-H (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/4-H) as a kid? Are they going to start counting every single author who has a website because websites are, pretty much by definition, self-published electronic text?

Also, I keep seeing lists like this that include musicians who "self-published" CDs (this is the norm for beginners in the music business, and happens under conditions that simply don't apply to the book industry). I wish these lists about success in self-publishing would limit themselves to books or reasonably book-like entities that actually count, instead of branching out into things that are normally self-published.

Anthony Ravenscroft
02-24-2007, 08:14 PM
Are they going to count flyers that an author printed and distributed for 4-H (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/4-H) as a kid?
You're catching on to the Cunning Plan, I see.

I think that subsidy publishing -- &, yes, even outright vanity -- could in theory serve a vital purpose in self-publishing.

But the thing is that there's all these... these... what's a cross between a hyena & a weasel? Anyway, these bottom-feeders have a vested interest in encouraging the "anyone can do it!!" & "write us a check, then sit back & watch the cash roll in!!" mythos. Not content to let the hype stand for itself, the scavengers pull in all sorts of "Mark Twain & Emily Dickinson self-published!!" or "publish your e-book & make millions just like Stephen King!!" hype that inflates one little bit of truth like sticking an air hose in a dead toad so you can make a football.

ResearchGuy
02-24-2007, 11:45 PM
Why does it enrage you folks so much that business people can and do succeed as independent publishers? Why is it so essential to divert attention (by nitpicking or by outright kneejerk across-the-board rejection) from the countless real examples?

Even in my little corner of the world I know people who run successful, profitable publishing businesses, some with national and even international scope. Why should it be so difficult simply to accept that there is nothing mystical or magical about independent publishing? It is a business, making and marketing products. Period. The methods are well known, laid out in detail in books that have been in print for decades, and followed by numerous entrepreneurs whose line of business is writing and publishing.

Is it so essential to believe that writing books is a sort of higher calling that must be annointed by commercial publishers for validation? Even writers whose manuscripts are published by commercial publishers are in the business of writing, having to track income and expenses, allocate time to the required tasks (writing, revising, querying, and the rest), and having to (pardon the expression) interface with other elements of the publishing business (agents and editors, but for some also publicists, website designers, researchers, and plain old gofers). But in their case, they focus on the writing itself (and essential ancillary tasks) and not on the other elements that go into running a publishing business.

I just don't get the anger and denial about the fact that individuals can and do succeed in independent publishing as a business, including many who choose to publish books they have written themselves.

Is it so necessary to believe that writing is something holy and above the commercial fray? Ridiculous. Books are a business. Some people make a business of books. Anyone who invests the time and effort can learn exactly how it is done. Yet some folks have to engage in hysterical denials. Weird.

Sure, not everyone who tries succeeds or does it well. You can say that of people in EVERY line of business or profession. That most new businesses fail (lack of capital, poor planning, inadequate execution, lack of advertising and promotion, poor cost structure, too much competition, untimely or mediocre product, poor location--the bane of many restaurants, for example--and so on) does not invalidate business as a whole.

Would your world crumble if you had to accept that writing is just another business or profession?

--Ken

Cathy C
02-25-2007, 12:03 AM
Why does it enrage you folks so much that business people can and do succeed as independent publishers?

It doesn't enrage us, Ken. We're comparing apples and cats here. To say that a person can become successful as an AUTHOR by getting their start by self-publishing isn't AT ALL the same as saying that a person can become successful as a PUBLISHER by getting their start by self-publishing. I don't think anybody disputes that there are many, MANY independent publishers that started by self-publishing and have gone on to bigger and better things after taking on the task of publishing the books of other authors.

The fallacy that keeps getting spouted is that it's LIKELY that an author can become a famous author through that means. Yes, it happens. There are a few authors who are competent enough editors to produce an award-winning, best selling book from scratch. But it doesn't happen often.

When these example names get brought up over and over, it gives the impression that it happens all the time. But when you have to dredge through the millions of authors who have produced work over the past TWO HUNDRED years, just to make up a list that contains fifty or sixty, then it's the equivalent of saying that a person can strike oil in their back yard while digging a swimming pool. It's probably happened. But it doesn't happen often, and it's unfair to lead people to believe that they're the NEXT SURE-FIRE MULTI-MILLIONAIRE AUTHOR of the publishing game because a few people over a few centuries have accomplished it.

But that's not hating on indie publishers in any way, shape or form. I think indie publishers are terrific. I think self-published authors are terrific. But they're apples and cats.

James D. Macdonald
02-26-2007, 06:04 PM
Yeah, nitpick. From that poorly-researched and misleading Self-Publishing Hall of Fame (http://www.bookmarket.com/selfpublish.html):


In 1851, Herman Melville wrote a letter to Nathaniel Hawthorne bemoaning his monetary problems. Nonethe-less, he still self-published his classic novel Moby Dick, the book many consider the greatest novel ever written by an American.

This is, to put it simply, not true. Melville was paid an advance (http://www.melville.org/hmmoby.htm) against royalties for Moby-Dick in 1850, before it was even written. His advance was £150 from publisher Richard Bentley of London, who produced the first edition, published under the title The Whale (in three volumes) in 1851. The first American edition was published by Harper & Brothers, also in 1851. Neither was self-published.

The list is rife with such errors.

The entire list is an example of the fallacy "special pleading." It incorporates numerous examples of the "post hoc" fallacy. (E.g. Louis L'Amour self-published a book of poetry. Later he became world-famous for his Western novels. These two facts are not related, but Kremer wants us to believe that the first caused the second.)

Writing is a skill. Publishing is a skill. Some people have both skills. Good for them! While it's easy to be a part-time writer, it's hard to be a part-time publisher. Folks who want to self-publish should be informed that they're taking on a full-time job, and that the odds of success (however you want to define it) are slim indeed.

I've said over and over that there's a place for self-publishing, that it's a legitimate part of the publishing world. But nonsense like Kremer's isn't helping.

(Note: £150 in 1850 is the equivalent of (http://www.mswth.com/ukcompare/) £11,483.02 in 2005 pounds using the retail price index. That's $22,035.90 in 2005 dollars (http://www.xe.com/ict/).)

Prosperity7
03-20-2007, 06:27 AM
Recently brought to my attention: http://www.bookmarket.com/selfpublish.html

Highly recommended. Highly.

--Ken

Thanks,

Very informative site.

Toothpaste
03-20-2007, 07:23 AM
Prosperity, did you read the comments after that post? Uncle Jim has pointed out how many on that list do not actually belong there. Check out the rest of this thread.

ResearchGuy
03-20-2007, 09:07 AM
Prosperity, did you read the comments after that post? Uncle Jim has pointed out how many on that list do not actually belong there. Check out the rest of this thread.
Yes, Jim pointed out the handful that he believes invalidate the hundreds of others . . .

BTW, I have corresponded with the proprietor of that list, John Kremer. Last I heard from him, he was going to delete the urban legends and other dubious entries that allow relentless nitpickers to raise questions about the whole vast list.

I recommended to Kremer that he focus his exceedingly interesting and informative site on examples from the last few decades, as those from a few generations ago are not relevant now.

I also mentioned a few successful independent publishers he did not have on the list, people I know personally and who run full time publishing businesses (one with 17 nonfiction titles, of which one has sold upwards of 75,000 copies, and one with novels that have sold as many as 30,000 copies so far, with margins far in excess of what any commercial publisher's royalties would be).

So help me, I do not understand the seething rage over those who make a business of independent publishing, or over those who are supportive of that kind of business. Weird.

--Ken

Prosperity7
03-20-2007, 09:40 AM
Prosperity, did you read the comments after that post? Uncle Jim has pointed out how many on that list do not actually belong there. Check out the rest of this thread.


Yes I did and thanks for you post as well. :)

Toothpaste
03-20-2007, 06:31 PM
Hey no prob . . . I do what I can . . .

KCH
03-20-2007, 08:26 PM
ResearchGuy,

"Seething rage"? Where? I see no seething rage, but I spotted some hyperbole and defensiveness streak by.

You said: "Yes, Jim pointed out the handful that he believes invalidate the hundreds of others . ."

First, off it's not a handful. And he hasn't claimed that the errors invalidate the entire list. He's pointed out that the list is not reliable. And it isn't.

Numerous errors and outright falsehoods do indeed call into question the accuracy of other items on the list. The presumption of accuracy that exists in a published reference work is automatically forfeited with the production of demonstrable error that stands uncorrected and continues to be distributed.
It's tainted product. Tainted reputation.

It's the job of the person purporting to be the authority to ensure the accuracy of the information. Not Jim's. He found errors, pointed them out, and now your beef is essentially that he didn't mention the correct items on the list. Kinda like the waiter telling you to pick the mold off your entree. Lots of good stuff under there.

If your purpose here is to enhance the reputation of self-publishing, it seems to me that the goal would be better served by working to improve the reputation through higher standards instead of arguing why high-standards are nit-picky. Or characterizing disagreement with your position as "seething rage."

ResearchGuy
03-21-2007, 07:52 AM
. . . working to improve the reputation through higher standards . . .
Higher standards in independent publishing? Or higher standards in reporting on independent publishing?

I have regularly advised those who are even thinking about self-publishing of the risks and limitations and of the necessity of studying one of the top-tier, well-established books on the subject before proceeding. And I have done what I can to encourage Mr. Kremer to delete the urban legends and outdated references from his list.

The thing is, those who have avoided learning about individuals who succeed in the business of independent publishing probably just really do not believe that it can be done and is done by those who go about it professionally. Sure, lots of bad books are self-published. But you know what? Lots of junk is commercially published. (It is commercially viable junk, as there is a market for that, just as there is for the trash that dominates televison, but junk nonetheless.) And for that matter, lots of people fail in the pursuit of commercial publishing--cannot produce manuscripts that meet commercial standards, cannot produce enough output to make a living at it, and so on. That does not invalidate commercial publishing as a type of business or as an aspiration for writers who are so inclined.

Anyway . . . fine, "persnickety piffyness" if you think "seething rage" is too strong. (I was yanking chains with that phrase anyway.) I still think it is weird. But maybe that is because I actually know people who run profitable independent publishing businesses, and long ago (before he published his first book) knew the fellow who founded Prima Publishing--starting with his first book--which is now an imprint of Random House. Don't tell me it cannot be done. That guy was a concert violinist when I knew him--and an Amway distributor (I kid you not). He became a wildly successful independent publisher, and then sold out to the big boys. The kneejerk flailing at the whole concept of independent publishing across the board is just silly. Obviously it is not for everyone. It is not for most people. Probably not even for many people. But it is for some people. Same as most other challenging lines of business. It is ok to be matter of fact about that. There is nothing sacred about books as products.

--Ken

James D. Macdonald
03-21-2007, 10:55 AM
Yes, Jim pointed out the handful that he believes invalidate the hundreds of others . . .

I pointed out the tip of the iceberg.

Do not think for one minute that I mentioned every misleading example -- or flat lie -- on that list.

James D. Macdonald
03-21-2007, 11:15 AM
The kneejerk flailing at the whole concept of independent publishing across the board is just silly.

Ken, can you point out where -- in the 8,000+ messages I've posted here, and the thousands of others I've posted elsewhere -- I've ever flailed against independent publishing?

You can't, because I haven't.

Saying that Kremer's list is bogus (which it is) isn't the same thing as saying that independent publishing can't work, for whatever value of "work" you like.

I think that Kremer's list does more harm than good, because it misleads the inexperienced into thinking that self-publishing is a fast, easy shortcut to success.

James D. Macdonald
03-22-2007, 11:04 AM
Well, well. Look at this: John Kremer, author of the misleading and poorly researched Self-Publishing Hall of Fame, has noticed this thread!


Below is a list of many other amazing authors who have chosen to self-publish at some time in their careers. You would do well to be among this honored group.


One romance author's critique of the following list: “When these example names get brought up over and over, it gives the impression that it happens all the time. But when you have to dredge through the millions of authors who have produced work over the past TWO HUNDRED years, just to make up a list that contains fifty or sixty, then it's the equivalent of saying that a person can strike oil in their back yard while digging a swimming pool. It's probably happened. But it doesn't happen often, and it's unfair to lead people to believe that they're the NEXT SURE-FIRE MULTI-MILLIONAIRE AUTHOR of the publishing game because a few people over a few centuries have accomplished it.”

I didn't dredge this list up. It is a list of several hundred creative and noble people who at some point in their careers chose self-publishing as a legitimate option. I don't recommend self-publishing to most authors, but for some it is and has been a viable and productive option. This list tells the stories of these people. I will continue to honor them.

It's funny the way he objects to having his list characterized as being dredged up out of two centuries of English literature -- when he's just named Alexander Pope and Thomas Paine.


You could stock a superb college library or an incredible bookstore just from the books written by the some of the authors who have chosen to self-publish at some point in their lives: Margaret Atwood, William Blake, Ken Blanchard, Robert Bly, Lord Byron, Willa Cather, Pat Conroy, Stephen Crane, e.e. cummings, W.E.B. DuBois, Alexander Dumas, T.S. Eliot, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Benjamin Franklin, Zane Grey, Thomas Hardy, E. Lynn Harris, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ernest Hemingway, Robinson Jeffers, Spencer Johnson, Stephen King, Rudyard Kipling, Louis L'Amour, D.H. Lawrence, Rod McKuen, Marlo Morgan, John Muir, Anais Nin, Thomas Paine, Tom Peters, Edgar Allen Poe, Alexander Pope, Beatrix Potter, Ezra Pound, Marcel Proust, Irma Rombauer, Carl Sandburg, Robert Service, George Bernard Shaw, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Upton Sinclair, Gertrude Stein, William Strunk, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoi, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, and Virginia Woolf.

Sure, you could stock a superb college library or an incredible bookstore just from the books written by some of the authors who have chosen to self-publish at some point in their lives. But you couldn't stock a superb college library, and the bookstore you could stock would be 'incredible' indeed, if you limited it to the books that they actually did self-publish: William Strunk's class notes. Margaret Atwood's college poetry. Stephen King's high-school newsletter.

Pretending that the experiences of eighteenth-century poets and political pamphleteers have any relevance to self-publishing in the early years of the twenty-first century is incredible enough. Works that were legally obscene when written and therefore forced to be privately published are more muddying of the water; writers who know enough literary history to sort through the misleading implications probably aren't reading Kremer's list for inspiration. Putting Sinclair Lewis on the list (presumably for The Jungle -- which was printed by subscription simultaneously with the first commercial edition) merely shows that Kremer is unfamiliar with the various forms that publishing took in the later part of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth. Other authors on that list had works that were privately printed (often in editions of six copies) in order to obtain copyright protection. Under the copyright laws that existed at the start of the twentieth century, copyright could not be obtained until a work was published. Those are special cases of self-publication, brought about by circumstances that haven't existed in nearly a century. They don't belong on any list of self-publishing fame, not without a great deal more explanation than is given.

When I'm feeling charitable I believe that Kremer is merely confused.

I think it likely that most authors have, at some time or another, self-published something. Authors -- ones you've heard of -- love words, they play around with words and play around with printing and publishing. See, for example, the Bronte sisters and their "little books." (Yo, John Kremer! Some more authors to add to your Hall of Fame!) That their self-publication led to their later success (or that their earlier successes led them to self-publishing) is a proposition that won't bear much examination.

Does Kremer know the history of (and the list of titles and authors published by (http://www.twainquotes.com/websterco.html)) Mark Twain's publishing company? If Kremer doesn't know it, then his inclusion of Twain on his list is just another example of poor research. If he does know, then it's active dishonesty. Calling Twain a self-published author is technically true, but misleading. (Oh, and hint for Kremer: It wasn't a typewriter, it was a typesetting machine. And Twain went bankrupt.)

It seems clear that Kremer is aware that his inclusion of Edgar Rice Burroughs is bogus: he's read this thread and he quotes some of my words verbatim (though uncredited):

After Edgar Rice Burroughs became rich and famous as the author of the Tarzan books, he formed a publishing company where he published more books including some of his own.

Nevertheless, Kremer continues to list Burroughs as a self-publishing Hall of Famer.

I'm not going to do Kremer's research for him -- not unless he wants to pay me to do it. Let's just say that the list is still chock-a-block with errors, omissions, and outright lies. (Mary Janice Davidson was not self-publishing in any sense of the term when she sold her books to Ellora's Cave; while the history of the game Monopoly is fascinating, it's irrelevant to book publishing; M. C. Hammer's adventure with producing his music is likewise irrelevant to book publishing.) Kremer still lists John Grisham, even though it's widely known that Grisham did not self-publish his first novel. The Grisham self published! rumor is one of those internet stories that keeps on getting debunked. A Time To Kill was first published by Wynwood, a perfectly ordinary advance-and-royalty-paying New York publisher (they also published Charles Berlitz's language books). That story about Grisham hasn't gotten any truer over the years, yet here it is again. (I do know how the story about A Time to Kill being self-publishing got started. I bet Kremer doesn't know. (I'm not going to mention in what sense Grisham can be considered self-published. Let Kremer do some research.))


Further down Kremer's misleading and poorly-researched list, we find this:




In 1939, Louis L'Amour privately published his first book, a collection of poems known as Smoke from This Altar. More than ten years after his book of poetry was published, his first novel was published. His 100 westerns have sold more than 200 million copies worldwide.


Again, for the idiots that are tempted to draw the wrong conclusion, L'Amour's success as a western novelist had nothing to do with his self-publishing a poetry book ten years earlier. I don't know why I have to explain this, but apparently some critics think I'm implying some sort of causal connection. What a silly, silly assumption!


Presumably the "idiots" are the starry-eyed newbies who are the primary targets of the Self Publishing Hall of Fame. The ones who are so fond of quoting it to one another in the message boards maintained by one vanity press or another.


What a silly assumption? Then why did you put L'Amour on your list, silly Kremer? What were you trying to imply? I'll tell you what: you're trying to mislead newbie authors into assuming that L'Amour's self-publication had something to do with his later success. The point of this entry was to get the words "200 million copies" on your page. I don't know why I have to explain this, but when you put in bogus entries the plain implication is that you intend to deceive the unwary. I note that you've included other similarly misleading entries without the explanatory note that you appended here. Do you know which ones? Time to start researching, guy.


James D. Macdonald self-published a songbook in 1975 in an edition of 150 copies — as he puts it, “just me, a Xerox machine, and a saddle-stapler.” He went on to become a bestselling novelist and short story writer. He wants people to know, though, that “the latter did not depend in any way on the former.”

And if anyone contacts me, I'll tell that person that I think this "Self Publishing Hall of Fame" is poorly researched and misleading.


Dr. Herbert Tarnover began The Scarsdale Diet book as a single-page mimeographed sheet of diet instructions for his patients. One of those patients was a publisher who bought the rights and hired a professional writer to expand that one page to book length. That published book became a bestseller.

Really, Kremer, you ought to hire me as a research assistant. My rates are reasonable.

Since you're correcting your site, here's a way to organize it:

First, delete everything published prior to 1900 (probably a better mark would be the mid-twenties when Simon & Schuster started selling crossword puzzle books on a returnable basis, but I'm feeling generous). The business of publishing has changed so much since then that it's nearly unrecognizable.

Then divide all the books according to category: Poetry, specialized non-fiction, non-fiction meant to be sold from the back of the hall after a speaking engagement, inspirational, erotic/pornographic, and niche fiction. See what's left after that. You might want to color-code the entries.

Somewhere along the line you might want to research the entries, too. Truth has some value, some places.

James D. Macdonald
03-22-2007, 12:45 PM
Here's an example of a vanity POD (Trafford) that quotes directly from, and links directly to, Kremer's misleading and poorly researched Hall of Fame: http://www.trafford.com/faq/clip1/bestsellingtitles.html

Cathy C
03-23-2007, 08:52 PM
Quote:
Below is a list of many other amazing authors who have chosen to self-publish at some time in their careers. You would do well to be among this honored group.


One romance author's critique of the following list: “When these example names get brought up over and over, it gives the impression that it happens all the time. But when you have to dredge through the millions of authors who have produced work over the past TWO HUNDRED years, just to make up a list that contains fifty or sixty, then it's the equivalent of saying that a person can strike oil in their back yard while digging a swimming pool. It's probably happened. But it doesn't happen often, and it's unfair to lead people to believe that they're the NEXT SURE-FIRE MULTI-MILLIONAIRE AUTHOR of the publishing game because a few people over a few centuries have accomplished it.”

I didn't dredge this list up. It is a list of several hundred creative and noble people who at some point in their careers chose self-publishing as a legitimate option. I don't recommend self-publishing to most authors, but for some it is and has been a viable and productive option. This list tells the stories of these people. I will continue to honor them.

Look at that! I got quoted. Sadly it was out of context with my point. Any number of successful PUBLISHERS started with personal projects. The question is whether an individual, particular book that was self-published directly contributed to the author becoming a famous AUTHOR. That's where I see the inconsistencies in the list.

veinglory
03-23-2007, 09:05 PM
The ability to quote with occassionally accuracy, and yet always mislead entirely, seemed to be a common theme, then.

eric11210
03-24-2007, 05:35 AM
Interesting looking at that site.

John Grisham for instance, the self publishing story about him. He bought half the initial run of his books and did run around with them in his car, trying to sell them. What he didn't mention is that he had incredible trouble selling those books and a great many of them actually ended up in a dumpster because they got mildewed.

Or that Grisham's big break happened because he had an incredible agent who sold his second book as a hollywood film before he sold the book itself. (at least that's what I read about his story in Writer's Digest).

I wonder if someday when I become a published author (I certainly hope to be) that I'll end up on that list. I self published a compilation of my 6th grade students' writing as an end of year gift for them (photocopied in school, then spiral bound. I printed the cover on my color printer at home:D ). I even edited my high school year book. Technically, those are self published.

But alas, I've not yet sold my novel. Still busy revising. I just began working on a third draft. It's amazing how much I've found to improve on from my second draft. I took a week off and it was really a great idea. I'm now noticing much more than I would have had I not done so.

Back to the issue at hand, please feel free to add me to the list when I finally get published. It will be something to have a good laugh about with friends to show them what I "self published."

;)

Eric

HapiSofi
03-24-2007, 06:18 AM
Jim Macdonald may think it possible that Kremer is merely confused, but I don't.

John Kremer is a con artist, and John Kremer's Self-Publishing Hall of Fame (http://www.bookmarket.com/selfpublish.html) is a fraud. How do I know? Simple: Kremer couldn't have done the research it took to compile his book without running into facts that would have contradicted his thesis. He left that information out.

Many people have responded to Kremer's list of "self-published authors" by correcting some quantity of his misrepresentations. He has not altered his list to reflect any of that updated information.

Why hasn't he corrected himself? Because he knows that many authors who've written unsaleable manuscripts are desperate to believe that self-publication will somehow make them successful. They're the audience for his book. The lies John Kremer tells are what they want to hear. If he couldn't present self-publishing as a viable option, his target audience wouldn't buy his book. They also wouldn't need to buy his other title, 1001 Ways to Market Your Book.

We've watched the process in action here. Several people in this thread have said that going by John Kremer's standards for what constitutes a self-published author, this or that other author should also be on his list. Kremer immediately snatched up those examples and incorporated them into his list, even though they were cited as examples of writers who shouldn't be labeled "self-published". John Kremer doesn't care. People who can tell the difference between a legitimate and a dishonest example aren't his target audience.

ResearchGuy is also a con artist. How did John Kremer find out about those examples so quickly? ResearchGuy sent them to him. Obviously, he approves of John Kremer's scam, and is happy to help him run it.

ResearchGuy has also been misrepresenting the tone and content of this thread. We aren't furiously angry. We don't have it in for independent publishing. However, we do think John Kremer's list of "self-published authors" is a piece of crap. Thing is, ResearchGuy isn't usually this clueless a reader. He's pretending to read things into other posts in this thread that he knows aren't there.

ResearchGuy, you are not honest. You're not a good man. And I don't respect you, your work, or your defense of John Kremer.

Another one of ResearchGuy's arguments has been that Jim Macdonald and others here haven't invalidated every single one of John Kremer's supposed examples. There's an easy answer to that: John Kremer lists a lot of examples, and primary bibliographical research takes work. Shall we assume that every unexamined example Kremer lists is valid, and we've only happened to examine the dishonest ones? We shall not. We have a sufficient sample to judge the quality of the whole.

Besides, I've seen other pieces of writing where people have critiqued Kremer's list. If you put all of them together, you've have more coverage, but I doubt the conclusion would be any different. Kremer's claims are false, and that's that. Nevertheless, I'll do my part to add to the list of authors who should not appear in Kremer's book.

I've got a theme here. John Kremer lists William Blake, Benjamin Franklin, L. Frank Baum, and Mark Twain as "self-published authors." This is malarkey. What they were was printers.

William Blake was an artist, printer, and engraver (he invented relief etching) as well as a writer. I believe he paid for the printing of his first book, Poetical Sketches; but that's normal for poetry. It was not successful. After that, he and his brother opened a print shop. Later still, he and his wife moved to Sussex, where they continued to work.

To say that Blake self-published his work is misleading unless you make it clear that he literally self-published it: engraving the plates, operating the press, hand-coloring the printed images, and hand-binding the pages. (His wife, Catherine, also worked on the printing, coloring, and binding.) The result: abject poverty. Printing isn't publishing. A labor-intensive publication like Songs of Innocence sold slowly, for a few shillings a copy. Most of the of money earned from his creative work during his lifetime (and he didn't earn much) was for his work as an illustrator.

In short, for William Blake, self-publication was a disaster. He survived and is remembered because he was taken up by some of the aesthetes, literati, and radical religious and political thinkers of his period. Without their help and support, it's doubtful that he could have continued to do the work for which he's remembered, or that the work he did would have been preserved in a coherent form after his death.

Benjamin Franklin was in his youth apprenticed to his brother James, who was a commercial printer. Three years into that apprenticeship, J. Franklin created the New England Courant, the first independent newspaper in the colonies. B. Franklin's writing first saw publication there under the pseudonym of "Mrs. Silence Dogood." His brother was unaware of Mrs. Dogood's true identity.

That is: Benjamin Franklin submitted his work to a commercial publication, which accepted and printed it. The work found a popular audience. The fact that B. Franklin helped operate the printing press didn't make it self-publishing.

He ran away from his apprenticeship, worked as a typesetter in London, returned to Boston and worked as a shop clerk, then set up a printing operation of his own. (To the end of his life, he signed his letters "B. Franklin, Printer.") He became the publisher of a newspaper, The Pennsylvania Gazette. That is: he had to deal on a daily basis with sales, marketing, pricing, distribution, and all the other problems that perennially dog publishers. Three years later he expanded his product line by partly compiling and partly writing Poor Richard's Almanac, the chief source of his fame as a writer. It grew to be a success. His other major work, his autobiography was published posthumously.

We're always telling writers that if they self-publish their books, or allow them to be published by operations which don't do sales and marketing, and which don't have distribution deals that put real physical copies of books onto the shelves of bookstores, their books will go nowhere. Time and time again, that warning is proved to be true, especially if they're writing fiction.

Benjamin Franklin ran a business that produced, marketed, and distributed printed publications. He included some of his own writing in those publications. This has no resemblance whatsoever to the self-publishing schemes pushed by the likes of John Kremer, or Dan Poynter, or Tom and Marilyn Ross.

L. Frank Baum was the son of a wealthy oilman: a fortunate thing, since he had no head for business. He started writing at an early age, and his father gave him a printing press. (Which came first is unknown.) He and his brother published several issues of The Rose Lawn Home Journal -- essentially a fanzine, though it took paid advertisements. When Baum was 17 they started another fanzine, The Stamp Collector, and published a pamphlet called Baum's Complete Stamp Dealers' Directory.

In 1876, when he was 20, Baum moved on to breeding fancy poultry, which was a popular activity at that time. He specialized in one breed, the Hamburg Chicken. In 1880 he started a monthly trade journal, The Poultry Record, and in 1886 published his first book, titled The Book of the Hamburgs: A Brief Treatise upon the Mating, Rearing, and Management of the Different Varieties of Hamburgs.

Another thing we keep telling author-hopefuls is that the only variety of self-publication that has any kind of reproducible success is nonfiction aimed at a well-defined audience that wants information on that subject. Baum's publications for chicken fanciers fit that definition to a T. Unfortunately, he had a lifelong fascination with the theatre, and kept losing all his money to various theatrical disasters.

He and his wife moved to the Dakota Territory, where Baum opened a store that failed. He edited a local newspaper, The Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, which failed. He and his family moved to Chicago, where he worked for the Evening Post. Then he edited a magazine for advertising agencies; and if that's not working in the publishing industry, I don't know what is.

In 1897 he wrote and published Mother Goose in Prose, a children's book of prose retellings of Mother Goose rhymes, illustrated by Maxfield Parrish. It was an okayseller. Two years later he and illustrator W.W. Denslow published a collection of nonsense verse called Father Goose, His Book. It's said to have been the best-selling children's book that year, though I don't know how stiff the competition was.

In 1900 Baum and Denslow shared the copyright on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which was a great success, and was the best-selling children's book for two years running. Baum wrote thirteen more Oz books. He didn't have much choice. His audience kept demanding more of them, and his non-Oz books sank like rocks.

After a particularly bad theatrical disaster, Baum sold off the rights to many of his early works, including The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The publisher that bought the rights put the books out in cheap editions that competed with Baum's own publications, and put out ads that claimed that Baum's later books were inferior to his early titles (i.e., the books they had the rights to). By then Baum had learned his lesson: he'd put most of his property in his wife's name. When his next business failure came, his losses were less catastrophic than they'd been on previous occasions.

I have no idea what the deal was on the rights to the Oz franchise, but new Oz titles (http://www.halcyon.com/piglet/books/book62.htm) kept appearing long after Baum's death in 1920. One author, Ruth Plumley Thompson, wrote nineteen of the things.

L. Frank Baum comes as close as anyone to the image of successful self-publication as it's marketed by the likes of John Kremer, and you still have to squint hard and turn your head sideways to see his history as a success. How did Baum get as close as he did? Two reasons: he had some talent, and his father had a lot of money.

The sad truth is that Baum failed far more often than he succeeded, and kept failing even after he'd served a long dreary apprenticeship in trade publications. He had no idea that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was going to be a big success; he published quite a few children's books, and that was the one that surprised him. Oz was his breakthrough title. With this success in hand, Baum proceeded to make a complete cock-up of his subrights, lose control of his most successful work, and fail in business yet again because he was out-competed on his own turf by wilier operations.

Self-publishing bunco-steerers like to scare hopeful authors with tales of how hard it is to get a first novel published, or to make a real name for yourself. They lie. Every successful author out there began as a first-timer. Every somebody was once a nobody.

There's one very small grain of truth in it. Publishing someone's first book can be a bit of a challenge, though it's one the industry undertakes on a regular basis. It's easier if you know what you're doing. Trade book publishing is a complex business, and many parts of it require serious professional expertise.

Why should the (not insuperable) difficulty of publishing a first novel make it a good idea for novice authors to try to do it on their own?

Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in 1835. He was apprenticed to a printer when he was twelve; at fifteen became a typesetter and feature writer for the Hannibal Journal, a newspaper owned by his older brother Orion Clemens; became a journeyman printer at eighteen; and disliked being compared to Benjamin Franklin. He left the printing trade for the glories of becoming a steamboat pilot, and got his pilot's license in 1859, but the start of the Civil War in 1861 put an end to that career.

He tried soldiering, wasn't cut out for it, went west to Nevada with his brother, found he wasn't cut out to be a miner, and went back to being a newspaperman on the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise. He also went back to writing funny stories and articles, and had his first big success with The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County -- which, mind you, was submitted in regular fashion and published in the New York Saturday Press.

He moved on to California, kept working as a journalist and writing other material on the side, hung out with other writers, and started lecturing. (He was a spellbinding talker, and often a very funny one.) Most of his early books were collections of his journalism and occasional pieces, all of which were professionally published. He became successful. He got married, had a family, and in 1871 settled in Hartford, Connecticut.

He also started messing around with novels. The first didn't do much, but The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was immensely popular, and has been in print ever since. The Prince and the Pauper was his first plotty Dickens-ish novel-style novel. It didn't do as well. He started writing Huckleberry Finn, but the writing didn't go smoothly, so he published another couple of books in the meantime. (Writers who start out as journalists don't tend to have writer's block, though their quality can vary, and they'll sometimes have trouble finishing a specific piece.) When Huckleberry Finn was finally published, it was a smashing success. It's up there in the running for all-time great American novel.

By now, Mark Twain was one of the best known, best loved, and most successful writers in America. Unfortunately, somewhere around this time he decided to become his own publisher as well. It was a bad idea. In spite of publishing one of the great American bestsellers -- Ulysses S. Grant's memoirs, which sold a truly remarkable 300,000 copies -- as well as Twain's own very popular work, his publishing company went bust.

Let me repeat that point: Mark Twain began self-publishing his work when he was one of the best-known and most successful writers in America. This has no resemblance whatsoever to the audience for John Kremer's mendacious hogwash. And what became of Twain's publishing venture? It went broke. It wasn't just selling Twain's work; it was selling Ulysses S. Grant's memoirs, which sold astoundingly well for that period. Nevertheless, it went broke.

Are there any other instances of self-publishing which resemble this? Yes. At the height of his popularity and success, Stephen King also experimented with self-publication. It was a flop. He declared the experiment a failure, and went back to conventional publishing.

So much for Blake, Franklin, Baum, and Twain.

John Kremer lists scores of other writers as examples of successful self-publishing. I confidently predict that if you researched each and every one of them, those authors would on average prove to have been less successful than the four I've discussed here. After all, these guys were printers, and three of them were professional journalists, so at least they knew something about where books come from and how they happen. Most novice authors have no idea. That's why they're the target audience for John Kremer's books.

Anthony Ravenscroft
03-24-2007, 10:24 PM
Speaking as a former journalist & research writer, that is an essay worth being proud of, HapiSofi.

HapiSofi
03-25-2007, 03:33 AM
Thank you!

(The former researcher for a reference house takes a bow.)

jamiehall
04-01-2007, 12:55 AM
Yes, Jim pointed out the handful that he believes invalidate the hundreds of others . . .

BTW, I have corresponded with the proprietor of that list, John Kremer. Last I heard from him, he was going to delete the urban legends and other dubious entries that allow relentless nitpickers to raise questions about the whole vast list.

I recommended to Kremer that he focus his exceedingly interesting and informative site on examples from the last few decades, as those from a few generations ago are not relevant now.

Thanks for doing that. There does need to be pressure for authorities to clean up such lists. Now if we could only get the derivative lists that are even sillier cleaned up.

HapiSofi
04-01-2007, 02:34 AM
The trouble is that John Kremer's thesis is false. He wants to sell the idea that many people have been made happy and successful by self-publishing their books. That hasn't actually happened much.

James D. Macdonald
04-01-2007, 06:11 AM
The word "successful" remains undefined.

The two most important things if you plan to self-publish are:

a) know what your goal is
b) have an objective way to tell if you've achieved that goal

LloydBrown
04-01-2007, 05:39 PM
The word "successful" remains undefined.

Unfortunately, for many people "successful" means "I have a book in my hand; ergo, I've been vindicated."

jamiehall
04-02-2007, 07:54 AM
The trouble is that John Kremer's thesis is false. He wants to sell the idea that many people have been made happy and successful by self-publishing their books. That hasn't actually happened much.

He certainly does give that impression. Which is why putting more pressure on him to clean up his sloppy list is good, regardless of whether he is a scammer or just ignorant. Self-publishing success stories are MUCH rarer than John Kremer says.

Dustry Joe
12-28-2007, 07:19 AM
Why does it enrage you folks so much that business people can and do succeed as independent publishers?

My question as well.

It's not pros who get all hysterical about this. Most pro writers would do it if the opportunity presented itself. (See: Clifford Irving)

It's the wannabes that squawk like somebody else is cheating by being their own publisher and it's any of their business. How dare you take a shortcut and call yourself published while I'm still producing birdcage carpeting?

There are scams and you'd have to be pretty stupid or headstrong to get caught up in them with all the info that's around on the net.

But basically publishing your own book is a valid tool that some writers find useful and others don't.